|Cover design by Johnny Ink|
By Lauren Yarger
If you have been writing, or hoping to write for any length of time, you probably have read any number of books written to offer practical advice, how-to instructions and lists of resources to get you from “wannabe” to “professional.” Just as likely is the fact that while some actually are helpful, most don’t tell you much more than you already knew or, at worst, intimidate you so much that you turn the last page convinced you never will make it as a writer.
Here’s why “Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing (and not getting eaten)” (2011, Michael Wiese Productions) by Pen Densham is different and should be on your shelf: because it won’t stay on your shelf and every time you refer to it, you’re likely to come away thinking, “I can do this!”
Densham, author of the scripts for movies such as “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” Moll Flanders,” TNT’s “Houdini” and the revivals of television’s “The Outer Limits” and “The Twilight Zone” offers tips from his own experience, help from fellow screenwriters and practical advice. A high school drop out whose first job in show business was riding the back of a live alligator for a short film made by his parents (hence the book’s title), Densham has gone on to a successful writing career and founded Trilogy Entertainment Group, which has produced 14 feature films. He also is an adjunct professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
That teaching experience comes out in this book, which is neither preachy nor intimidating. Instead, we feel as though we are being cultivated as storytellers and writers by a supportive mentor who manages to deliver some basics while inspiring us to make them functional.
“I create my characters so that, in the first act, this negative element (which he calls a nugget of the story) is in their backstory: one simple, powerful, defining, and sometimes, horrible thing. They live with that thing, but haven’t absorbed or dealt with it. In a sense it haunts them – a failed life script or emotional program.”
That succinct paragraph did more to help me develop my screenplay than whole books on plot and characters have accomplished. Denham's book delivers advice in the same tightly packaged, page-turning , memorable manner in which you hope your final screenplay will be categorized.
The author also provides advice beyond the “how to” of writing the screenplay. There are chapters on selling the script (“Entering the Jungle”), pitching it to agents and studios, suggestions for other jobs you can do, that might even speed up the process, while you are waiting to make it as a writer and how to deal with the stress involved with the process.
Readers also benefit from thoughts included from a dozen other industry professionals like Shane Black (“Lethal Weapon”), Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), Eric Roth (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Good Shepherd,” “Munich,” “The Horse Whisperer”), Tony Peckham (“Sherlock Holmes,” “Invictus,” “Don’t Say a Word,” “The Assassin”), Ron Shelton (“White Men Can’t Jump,” “Bull Durham”) and Laeta Kalogridis (“Avatar,” “ Shutter Island”).
There even are the usual list of online resources and a glossary of terms and all this comes in a very readable less-than-250 pages that make good on the promise of producer director Jay Roach’s foreword: “If you have ever had a great idea for a movie, but lacked the wherewithal to turn it into a screenplay, you have picked up the right book.”
Download a free chapter of the book and find out more about Densham here http://www.ridingthealligator.com/
You can purchase the book by clicking here.